Shami Chakrabarti wows audience at JUSTICE event



(L-R): Derek Ogg QC, Shami Chakrabarti and Lord Hodge

The celebrated civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti wowed a delighted audience in the Faculty of Advocates’ Laigh Hall with an open and informative discussion of her life and work.

In conversation with Derek Ogg QC, the outgoing director of Liberty touched on topics ranging from the ISIS threat to authoritarian politics and defending the Human Rights Act.

The event, the second in the JUSTICE Scotland “Beyond Law” series hosted by the Faculty, was praised by Lord Hodge, the UK Supreme Court Justice, who is chairing the series.

“What a treat,” he stated, describing Ms Chakrabarti as a “very articulate and humane voice for libertarian views.”

In the opinion of Liam Ewing, deputy chair of JUSTICE Scotland, the evening had been “an undoubted success” thanks to the quality of the contributions from the platform and the audience.

Ms Chakrabarti herself was delighted to have taken part. She said: “I really enjoyed it. I thought the contributions from the floor in particular showed what a thoughtful bunch of lawyers you have here, and how concerned they are, not only about the law but the way it shapes the kind of society we want to live in.”

Mr Ogg was a late substitute for the Dean of Faculty, James Wolffe QC, who was unable to attend, and he did himself a massive disservice by suggesting that his interviewing would likely be less Ludovic Kennedy and more Graham Norton. Clearly well researched and knowledgeable, he filled the role with ease.

Ms Chakrabarti recalled how she had caused alarm among family and friends when, after joining the English bar, she took a post in the Home Office, others not seeing her as a likely candidate for the civil service.

And when she then left to become in-house counsel at Liberty, there was more consternation.

“I had a wonderful career in the Home Office but the natural progression in government at that point would have been to move to another department, and it wasn’t for me. I saw the advert for the Liberty job and I knew about the organisation - I had been up against it in the Strasbourg court when, yes, I was on the dark side! In some circles, moving from the Home Office was incredible treachery, and there was also some thinking that this Home Office mole was coming to Liberty,” she said.

After a mere one day of “blue sky thinking” with Liberty the world was changed by the awful events of 9/11.

“Of course it was a game changer but I don’t think it was the beginning of our authoritarian politics. That had started earlier - attacks on judges, lawyers, legal aid, migrants. In our age, governments can feel quite powerless because the challenges are global and are not going to be solved by one government or another, yet senior politicians have to be seen to be doing something,” she suggested.

Ms Chakrabarti finds “anti-other rhetoric” to be “really troubling”, and sees a huge role for human rights in society. She highlighted the “stonking” maiden Commons speech of Joanna Cherry QC MP, in defence of the Human Rights Act.

All around the world, she added, attacks were being made on human rights defenders.

“It is happening in our country, and we cannot let it continue,” she said. “I think we have to defend the Human Rights Act and the ECHR, otherwise we are going in completely the wrong direction.”

Ms Chakrabarti announced recently that she was standing down as Liberty’s Director, and Mr Ogg wondered if it meant a quiet life.

“No. It doesn’t have to be about being on TV. You can make a contribution in a number of different ways,” she said.

  • Photo credit: Phoebe Grigor